I have had 36 major surgeries and over 100 minor procedures, been rushed to the hospital 13 times, life-flighted three times and have had six flatlines. I have legally died six times. And all of this occurred before I was 25.
I was born with Tracheoesophageal Fistula (TEF) with atresia. I had approximately four centimeters of esophagus coming from my stomach, which formed a pouch, and less than two centimeters of esophagus coming from my mouth. That part of my esophagus was connected to my lungs. I was born at 5:43 a.m. and at 6:03 a.m., I was being rolled into an operating room for the first of many surgeries to correct my abnormality. Between 1989 and 2009, I did not go more than one year without having a surgery or some type of procedure done. To say the least, I am very familiar with the healthcare field, but I take a different view. My view is through the eyes of a patient – a patient who has not known a normal life, but rather a life that was controlled by my health and the doctors who treated me. I have spent my life gaining insight into what a talented healthcare professional is and during my college years I gained an even deeper understanding of the vital role of talented individuals to any healthcare organization.
Shortly after beginning college, I started having problems swallowing as well as a lot of pain in my chest and left shoulder. I went in for a routine appointment and brought it up to my gastroenterologist. My doctor decided that I had an esophageal stricture and needed a dilatation. After three unsuccessful attempts to fix the problem, my pediatric surgeon referred me to a new surgeon because he thought a new set of eyes could help.
The new surgeon decided the original four centimeters of esophagus needed to be removed. They were right. The surgery was a success, but it was also a battle in and of itself. The surgery was supposed to take four hours. It took 12. I spent 17 days in the hospital recovering, 11 days of which I was in a medically induced coma. However, during my time in the hospital, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people.
My experience began when I first met "Dr. Jones,” the new surgeon my previous pediatric surgeon recommended. He was amazing from the start. Dr. Jones took the time to listen, and showed me compassion and empathy. After he listened to me explain everything, from birth on, he took a moment and just looked at me. Then he told me, "I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. But I know that I can fix it.” He did not jump into the medical terminology of what he was going to do, but rather spoke to me in a way I could comprehend and allowed me to answer questions as he spoke. I had a discussion with him rather than being told what was going to happen. Not only did he treat me like an individual, he was honest with me. While all doctors lay out the worst case scenario, he did so in a way that made me trust him and his competency. He was very direct about what could go wrong, but he also discussed how he would fix it if it did. He assured me he had a plan in place and several back-up plans as well. I trusted Dr. Jones – not just because he was a doctor, but because he built that personal one-on-one relationship with me and took the time to make sure I knew everything and was comfortable with it all.
When I was moved down to a regular recovery room, I was assigned a nurse whom I will call "John.” He was amazing. Most nurses I encountered have been compassionate, but he went above and beyond. When John came into my room, he always had a smile on his face. Even when I was in pain and struggling, he was able to brighten my mood. He instilled hope in me and faith that I would get through this and be stronger for it. He spoke to me and learned things about me – he knew what classes I was taking and about my family and friends. He cared. He took my mind off the pain. John helped to nourish and mature our relationship with one another, which ultimately helped me recover. He gave me hope and advice and always listened to me. His positivity was admirable and something I had not yet truly experienced.
The healing I found here was more than just physical, but equally as important. Oftentimes, I feel healthcare professionals forget their patient is a person. A person who is struggling not just with physical ailments but emotionally and mentally as well. The doctors and nurses I encountered during my stay were not only inspiring, they were life changing.
C.J. Weese works at Talent Plus, where she has learned new lessons about how important finding people with a talent for health care is. She spends her days joining the goal of Talent Plus to impact one million patient lives, much like the doctors, nurses and physical therapists who saved her and made her who she is today.